Saturday, June 19, 2010

The last of the lightning

BOB WOOLMER pays tribute Allan Donald, a great bowler and a stand-up guy

In any sport there are players who stand out, who create an aura of expertise, who are just better than the others around them. Allan Donald, South Africa’s greatest Fast bowler of all time, fits into that category.
When Fred True man became the first to 300 Test wickets, he was asked whether anyone would beat him. He famously replied, “Well if he does I know he will be bloody tired!” That was in 1964 and these days there are many more Test matches, which makes it a little easier to reach the 300 mark. But that’s not to downgrade the achievement: it remains a massive mountain to climd. Allan Donald scaled the peak very quickly, and his bowling average of 22 is quite fantastic.
When I think of Allan, some words immediately spring to mind. Pace, power and poise, to start with. determined, dedicated and decent, too. He was a delight to work with as a coach and I feel very proud to have had that opportunity, and to have become a friend as well… even despite his running between the wickets in a famous world cup match!
Like every cricketer Allan had his ups and downs. When things went wrong he would be disappointed, but you always knew that next day he would be up and at ‘em again.
Visions of Donald? Donald uprooting Sachin Tendulkar’s middle stump at Durban in 1996-97, and putting out his arms in that trademark impersonation of a plane doing aerobatics. Donald kissing the Canterbury pitch when he took the final wicket of the 1995 season to give Warwickshire the County Championship for the second year in a row.
Then there was Donald flying in to bowl like a man inspired against Brian Lara in South Africa in 1998-99, and taking personal delight in making sure that Lara was not a force in that series. And him in tears sitting on his bed in our Bombay hotel when we left him out of the quarter-final of the 1996 World Cup.
More generally, people will remember that disdainful glare at a batsman Allan had just beaten all ends up. He never verbally abused the batsman – he didn’t really have to. But he did occasionally inform someone that if he hung around too long he had asked the local ambulance to stand by.
I’ll also remember his ability to lift the team in the dressing-room with his impressions of Imran khan and Geoffrey Boycott, among other. Of course, he could lift the team on the field too, with a vital wicket. There were a lot of Warwickshire highlights, but one that stands out for me was a delivery to Graeme Hick in a Nat West semi-final. Hick received a back-of-a-length ball that flew at a very rapid pace towards his head and brushed the glove to be taken by the wicketkeeper, keith piper – who, by the way, will remember Allan breaking his fingers with great regularity.

There were times when we discussed a tactical plan before a match, and if it worked he would turn to me in the dressing room and acknowledge that it had come off. I’ll never forget the joy on Allan’s face and his salute when he once uprooted Martyn Moxon with an awayswinger, a delivery he had just mastered.
I’ll remember him lying in my pool on a big truck inner-tube with his foot in plaster, sipping a beer.
I’ll remember forever that Allan’s most productive deliveries came when it took him 2.74 seconds from run-up to delivery to release the ball. That was the right rhythm, and that’s when he achieved maximum pace and control.
I’ll remember the ashen faces of batsmen walking back to the pavilion, after losing their middle stumps when Allan was in his pomp.
I’ll remember the sight of him running in to bowl like a finely-tuned racing car, those golden locks (which receded slowly as he aged) flowing back in the wind, the beautiful graceful jump into the gather position, the tightness of the coil, the explosiveness of the release. Who will never forget the half-hour of hill that Mike Atherton received at trent Bridge, or the battering that steve Waugh’s body took at Centurion Park?
I’ll remember too his penchant for curry with-the odd pint of lager. I used to call it rocket fuel – before he was nicknamed White Lightning he was known as Rocket.
I’ll remember him on the golf course. He is pretty handy now – a single-figure handicap – but when he started, he had a wonderful huge sliced drive into the bushes. The ball was usually followed by the club and then some expletives.
But most of all, I’ll remember him as a friend. Even recently, When he was on tour in Australia he’d ring for a chat. I suspect that now we’ll have a few laughs on the golf course, usually at my expense. His future will include some coaching, and he has also shown some flair for commentating. I’m sure cricket has not seen the last of him.
His family will see more of him now. Tina, his lovely wife, and his children Hannah and Oliver will relish that. There will be a few batsmen who’ll breathe more easily now they won’t have to face him in Tests, but even they will remember him as a thoroughly decent guy.
Allan, we will all miss you gracing the Test-match scene.

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